It’s no secret that the 2011 Sac-Joaquin Section playoff bracket has some exciting games in store for its Division IV qualifying teams.
Valley Oak League, Western Athletic Conference and Sierra Valley Conference titles were all decided with the final league games of the season, and all three leagues have multiple teams capable of wining a section title.
Only one team, however, has the veritable target on its back.
“Oakdale’s expected to win because they’re the defending section champion,” Ceres High head coach Bret Durossette said. “They have all the pressure.
“We have one game to prove we’re better than them. We’re going to be prepared.”
Top-seeded Oakdale (19-8 overall, 11-3 VOL) will tackle the WAC No. 3 seed, Ceres (17-9, 9-6), in the first round of the D-IV bracket on Friday at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi.
Ceres is one of nine D-IV teams in a stacked bracket with some serious talent. The Bulldogs lost just three non-league games this season, all to 2011 playoff qualifiers with a combined 58-20-1 record (Lincoln, Pitman, Escalon).
Ceres twice beat the WAC’s second-seeded Los Banos and went 1-2 against the WAC champion, Central Catholic, though their latest game was a 10-9 thriller in the Raiders’ favor.
“I think they are a very good opponent and a group that has been together for quite a while,” Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika said. “They brought back almost everybody from last year and most of those kids have been together since (they were) freshmen or sophomores.
“They have solid pitching and very good hitting. They are a good team.”
Oakdale is certainly no slouch either.
The Mustangs closed VOL play with a dominant two-game rout of Sonora to clinch the conference’s top seed and outscored opponents 186-80.
Mustang aces Brennon Williams and Russell Longworth have been spectacular of late and Williams went a perfect 7-0 during league games. Longworth tossed a no-hitter in his last performance.
“It’s definitely going to be tough playing against Oakdale,” said Ceres hurler Dustin Baisdon. “They have great coaches and players every year. We’re all fighting for the same thing. It should be an exciting game.”
Baisdon said the Bulldogs expect to utilize both Tyler Cummings (7-1, 3.12 ERA, 45 strikeouts) and himself (6-5, 4.05 ERA, 80 strikeouts) should they need to in the first round game.
The team sports a combined .350 batting average with Baisdon (.442 average, 10 stolen bases), Brent Ward (.478 average, 21 RBIs) and Cummings (22 runs, five home runs, six doubles) leading the way.
If Oakdale can make it past Ceres, they will face the winner of Los Banos and SVC champion, Vista del Lago (16-10, 13-5) in a best of three semi-final series that begins on Saturday.
A few weeks ago it appeared that the team Oakdale beat for a section title a season ago, El Dorado, was poised to return the postseason as the SVC champion. However a 9-1 conference lead for the Cougars fell apart when El Dorado went 2-6 to close their regular season.
Vista del Lago and SVC No. 3 seed, Galt, were responsible for three of those losses.
“It’s a very deep bracket,” Arpoika said on Monday. “There are no easy games in the playoffs whatsoever. It’s definitely going to be a challenge as there is competition all across the board.
“The good thing is our last few games were like championship games, so we are used to having that ‘one game at a time’ mindset.”
Friday’s playoff game will start at 7 p.m., the final game of the D-IV’s opening round.